There are games that matter less and games that matter more. A Wednesday night thrashing of the Grizzlies at home doesn’t get anyone too excited, a win in Boston does. Hell, a win anywhere against Boston does it for me. In the last two seasons we’re 1-7 against them and frankly, it’s been frustrating and embarrassing. The Raptors could have two five game win streaks sandwiched around a loss against Boston and it still wouldn’t feel right. Wins against high-caliber teams, especially division rivals, employs confidence in the players and I felt our record against the C**tics thoroughly deflated our morale last year. Once you add in the three massive blowouts we had against the Cavs, you can’t help but feel that the team lost some belief in themselves. We salvaged some self-respect against Orlando but it was too little and way too late.
The reason for the four defeats against Boston last year were as follows:
1. The Raptors blow a big first half lead after being unable to handle Boston defensive pressure in the second half.
2. Rajon Rondo dominates a gimpy Calderon to set the tone for the game. C**tics cruise.
3. Ray Allen hits 8 threes to seal the deal.
4. Raptors fail to score on nine straight fourth quarter possessions.
I think those four defeats highlight different problem areas that the Raptors have taken steps to correct. In the first and last defeats the C**tics simply increased their defensive effort and pressure thus suffocating the Raptors into turnovers, bad shots and panic. Enter Hedo Turkoglu. Mr. Clutch who can cool down an active volcano just by standing next to it. We’re banking on him to provide the composure and control we lacked last year in pressure packed situations. Going scoreless for nine possessions late in the fourth quarter can spell the death for any team, let alone the Raptors and the biggest thing I’m looking forward to is watching Hedo operate in the fourth. Check that, watching Hedo command the offense in the fourth.
The second defeat speaks of weak defensive guard play, more specifically, Jose Calderon. If you recall, that was the game where he limped off after coming back too soon from injury. Rondo made him look like an 80-year old cripple and thoroughly exposed his injury. Things were never the same. Enter Jarrett Jack. When the swine flu came to get him, it pissed its pants. We’re not the greatest at help-defense and the easiest way of fixing that is to not help and that’s exactly what Jack is designed to do. Stop dribble penetration by playing smart, hard-nosed basketball and putting pressure on the ball-handler. It’s all easier said than done and I’d rather have a Keyon Dooling type do that kind of specialized tasks (long arms and all) but Jack will do, he’ll stop Rondo, or at least he’ll neutralize him.
The third defeat was all about nobody being able to handle Paul Pierce and the Raptors unable to keep track of Ray Allen. Enter Antoine Wright. He uses Tabasco sauce for eyedrops. Hailed by Rick Carlisle as one of the best defender’s he’s ever coached, Wright can slow down opposing wings. Sure, you’re thinking of Carmelo in last year’s playoffs right now but c’mon, he was on absolute fire then. Wright is good enough to slow down the likes of Pierce without needing constant help from other wings, thus allowing us to keep a keener eye on Allen. Don’t forget DeMar DeRozan, he’s got 20-year old legs and once won a game of connect-four in three moves. You think he can hang with Allen on those screens? I don’t know, but he’s going to do a much better job than Parker did. Forget not that Jack can play Allen much more physically than Parker did and if there’s one thing shooters hate, it’s physical defending.
Oh, I forgot the most important ingredient for wins against the C**tics. Chris Bosh can’t get scared of Kevin Garnett and needs to stand up to that bully when he starts taunting our guards in the backcourt. He needs to show up against them and he hasn’t so far:
vs. C**tics: 16.5/8.8/0.8 on 43% shooting.
Overall: 22.7/10.0/2.2 on 49% shooting.
Mental toughness cannot be developed, it has to be there from the start and that’s the one area that concerns me the most about playing the C**tics, that Kevin Garnett will simply intimidate Bosh and the Raptors into playing basketball which is well below their potential, and that nobody on this team will rise to the occasion to face that punk. But wait, enter Reggie Evans. He hunts Cheetahs on barefoot with a menacing glare as his only weapon. Who says toughness can’t be imported? We just got rid of Kapono for a man who intimidates every other man for fear of his privates. He’ll get in that phony’s face and make him think twice, it’s not a substitute for your star wimping out but he’ll sharpen that mean edge. Yeah, he’ll do that.
I think we’re better prepared for the C**tics this year.